Beyond Greenspace in Merseyside

By Ben Wheeler, Becca Lovell and  Dr Karyn Morrissey

Originally posted on Beyond Greenspace

We recently had a great opportunity to spend a morning together with a wide range of people and organisations, mostly from the Merseyside area, at a workshop organised by the Heseltine Institute for Public Policy and Practice Fresh Thinking Series. At the event “Beyond Greenspace: How can nature create healthier and wealthier places” we collectively covered a lot of ground on the research, policy and practice angles in Liverpool city region and beyond.

We had the opportunity to discuss the Beyond Greenspace project, and related research at the European Centre, and then to consider issues such as the pioneering links between local NHS organisations and the fantastic Mersey Forest. There has clearly been a huge amount of innovative work in the area, such as the Natural Choices project and Mindfulness in Forests. It was encouraging to see excellent collaboration going on between organisations such as the Liverpool LNP (Nature Connected), the regional Academic Health Science Network and CLAHRC, and the Local Economic Partnership.

Much of the conversation flowed around to economics, with some passionate debate on how a region can protect its natural heritage and public green/blue space, improve public health and wellbeing, and generate jobs and economic opportunity within a highly restrictive financial climate (HLF’s ‘State of UK Parks‘ provides some useful information on some of the challenges facing UK greenspace managers).

Dr Karyn Morrissey of the University of Liverpool, Department of Geography and Planning was on hand to give an excellent perspective on the economics of natural resources. Karyn spoke about the economic valuation of our natural resources as a means of incorporating green and blue assets within the public and private agenda. Whilst, undoubtedly rudimentary (and perhaps crass), the manner in which economists monetise our environment is important to the maintenance of our greenspaces; “what gets measured gets managed”.

Can Cities Solve Global Problems? A Point of View on Climate Change and the City Deal

A taste of things to come?  Flooding as a result of extreme weather (taken: Darlington, 29th November)

A taste of things to come? Flooding as a result of extreme weather (taken: Darlington, 29th November)

Post by Dr. Alex Nurse

Research by the Global Carbon Project published last week, and reported in the Guardian, indicates that contrary to reducing our total co2 emissions, last year total global emissions rose by 3.1%.  This is coupled with a rise of 2.6% in co2 emissions from industry.  The implications of this for global climate change are severe, with the authors suggesting that dangerous climate change now becoming inevitable.

Top three Countries (% of global co2 emissions)
1. China: 28%
2. USA: 16%
3. India: 7%
Source: Global Carbon Project

This failure to stem global emissions leads to inevitable questions as to whether our world leaders are ‘fit for purpose’, particularly given multiple opportunities to take firm action.  Though the Kyoto protocol was widely welcomed at the time, the 2009 Copenhagen summit aimed at updating them was largely viewed as a failure, with no meaningful targets to arise from it.

In this post I’d like to further the premise that world leaders are no longer fit for purpose to combat global climate change and instead make an alternative suggestion – it is now the turn of the individual city.

In particular, I would like to look at the potential for the City Deal to be one such vehicle that the English cities can use to achieve this leadership.  Introduced in 2012, the City Deal is a fiscal compact between the City (stage one involved the 7 core cities) and Central Government, where each city is given funding to focus on issues that they can define in return for changing their governance models to that of a directly elected Mayor.

Within this, early research by Centre For Cities looked at how each city opted to specialise within its City Deal, with several cities – including Liverpool – choosing Low Carbon as one of its specialist areas.  Now, a report by the Green Alliance has been published which explicitly considers how the city deal is being used to drive low carbon growth.  In it, Liverpool wins particular praise for establishing low carbon manufacturing in the city, particularly through its support for the offshore wind sector.  Liverpool is also one of the cities praised for its focus on sustainable transport.

However, the report makes several suggestions for how cities can further improve their City Deal as a vehicle to improve their low carbon performance, with a particular eye on the upcoming second phase of City Deal, which will involve some of England’s mid-size cities.

In many ways, these recommendations mirror Low Carbon Liverpool’s own recommendations to Liverpool – that low carbon becomes a key driver across all strategic policy documents, in order to demonstrate it is a key economic driver and that, in turn, low carbon becomes embedded in all aspects of city growth, so as to be able create a consistent programme of carbon reduction – not just in the energy sector.

Only time will tell as to whether cities are capable of rising to the challenge that nation states have, thus far, failed to adequately meet.  However, I would suggest that in the City Deal, they have a potentially useful tool – which, on initial impressions, should deliver significant benefits in meeting this objective.

Visiting the 2012 European Green Capital: Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain

Posted by Alex Nurse, Research Assistant, Low Carbon Liverpool project.

Last week, as part of the Low Carbon Liverpool research project, I visited Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain.  Vitoria is the capital of the Basque Country, located some 40km south of Bilbao and this year has the honour of hosting the European Green Capital award. Image  The Green Capital award is given to cities who have demonstrated an ability to lead on environmental issues whilst showing a commitment to continuing this development – the award has previously been held by Stockholm and Hamburg.

I attended an event entitled ‘Greening European Cities’: a collective of NGOs with an interest in the environmental issues who meet each year in the respective European Green Capital.  We heard from representatives of Vitoria-Gasteiz and had several opportunities to explore the city.

What shone through was that Vitoria-Gasteiz is a very well planned, compact city.  For 30 years planners have emphasised the need for good transport links, coupled with easy access to amenities.  By way of illustrating this, almost all of Vitoria-Gasteiz’s 240,000 residents live within 300m of key amenities (including shops, schools and hospitals). Image However the most striking point is the fact that a resident living on the very edge of Vitoria-Gasteiz has to travel only 3km to reach the city centre (a 40 minute walk, 10 minute cycle, or 5 minutes by one of Vitoria-Gasteiz’s trams or buses).  This would be the equivalent of the edge of Liverpool being located in Sefton Park.

However, after visiting the town centre, and speaking to residents it became evident that Vitoria-Gasteiz was a city that was struggling to reconcile the commitments that were made to the Green Capital year with the financial downturn which has enveloped Spain in recent times.  Although the reasons why the city won were evident, and logos in store fronts indicated a wealth of citizen support and pride, there was little by way of celebrating or engaging with the visiting public.  This could lead to Vitoria-Gasteiz being dubbed ‘The Austerity Green Capital’.

Nonetheless, I think Vitoria-Gasteiz has some key lessons to those who wish to study the city and to develop low carbon futures.  The central role of the citizen, effective multi-modal public transport and the ease of access to amenities could be held up as a model for how to develop future cities even if the financial downturn has prevented Vitoria-Gasteiz from celebrating its time in the spotlight as much as they might have liked.